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Places of Poetry interview – Creating a crowd-sourced map of Poetry


People across England and Wales are being invited to share their own poetry about the places they live in and love as part of an ambitious plan to create a digital map of Poetry for England and Wales.

The project will launch on 31 May and run through until 4 October, after which the map and content will be archived.

To launch the project there will be a series of poetry events over the summer at heritage sites that will foreground different types of heritage in different areas, from Avebury stone circle in Wiltshire, to the Byker Wall Estate in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. 

The project aims to prompt reflection on national and cultural identities in England and Wales, celebrating the diversity, heritage and personalities of place.

“For hundreds of years writers have been capturing the wonder of the natural world in poetry and prose, and using poetry to explore our changing relationship with place,” says Andrew McRae, Professor of English at the University of Exeter and Principal Investigator on this Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)-funded project.

Professor McRae will be working on the project in partnership with the poet and Radio 4 regular Paul Farley, from Lancaster University.

“We hope to use the medium of poetry to engage as many people as possible from all ages and backgrounds across England and Wales with thinking through their relationship with the places around them,” says Professor McRae.

“We want poetry to become the medium for people to express their ideas about heritage and identity.”

The project combines a model from the past – the early seventeenth-century epic of national description, Michael Drayton's Poly-Olbion – with a commitment to the value of creative practice in the present day.

The project map, based on the unique county maps of Poly-Olbion, will be overlaid upon Ordnance Survey data, with functions enabling users to zoom in and out, as well as switch between the two maps.

It will be pre-populated with a selection of historic pieces, but its central aim is to generate original work and there will be materials designed to coach users through their own compositions, which they will then be encouraged to 'pin' to particular places.

Map ipad app

“Poetry is an ancient way of engaging with the world around us,” says Professor McRae.”It's a very flexible tool and something that people seem to be able to write fairly easily.

“According to one survey, around 1.4 million adults write some form of poetry each year, and children are always writing poetry at school. So, we know that the interest is there.

“I think it is always good for people to think about their relationship to place and heritage and what holds them to particular areas.

“To think about the countryside, history, local sport – whatever it is that makes places special and contributes to our sense of identity, whether local or national.

“We didn't design The Places of Poetry as a Brexit-era project, but I'm sure that people will produce a lot of poetry that touches on Brexit. It's a big part of the conversation about who we are now and it will be interesting to see what people say.”

Once the project launches, Professor McRae hopes that social media will help spread the word and that the public may even get quite competitive about putting their places on the map.

“For example, I imagine that if someone sees a nearby cricket ground on the map, then they are going to want their cricket ground to be on there as well. Or their football stadium – or whatever it is that is special to them.

“People are very proud of the places that are special to them, they like to celebrate them – and they like to make their work known.”

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